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A historical-charismatic survey

Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Eliseo Sgarbossa ssp



In October of the same year 1926, Canon Francesco Chiesa affixed his signature on the preface of his book Gesł Maestro, which was about to go out on first printing. It is good to quote it textually:

"In the Society of St. Paul, Jesus is honored in a special manner as Master and the whole month of January is dedicated to this devotion. – In honor of Jesus Master, a grandiose Church is being built in the Mother House.

"Now the Rev. Theologian Alberione, founder and superior of the Pious Society of St. Paul, having proposed that I write a book on Jesus Master according to the method followed in the other book entitled Jesus Christ King, I deemed it my honor and my duty to accept the proposal.

"This booklet is divided into three parts: in the first part, the need of a master is treated. In the second part, we demonstrate that Jesus is truly the true Master, and in its regard the traits, the method and the subject matter for teaching are exposed; the third part teaches the manner of benefiting from the teaching of the Divine Master."(155)

The book then fulfilled a desire of Father Alberione: to have a first organic formulation of the doctrine on Jesus Master, which formulation had also to serve for the global catechesis of the Paulines. It was to be taught especially during the month of January dedicated to the Master. And this took place starting from January 1927. (summary)

1. The synthesis of Canon Chiesa

The subject matter was divided into three parts but not according to the trinomial dear to Fr. Alberione,(156) and the development of the subject matter makes one understand that the work, although theologically founded, is spiritual and exhortatory in character, useful for meditation or for teaching the apostolate. Hence the book is composed of 31 "readings" one for each day of the month. Let us summarily see the content.

In the first part (readings 1-6), after the presentation of Jesus as the true Master given to us by the Father, the need of a Master is demonstrated. It is a need that comes from the nature of being human, from our condition as disciples and from the needs of education. Two readings are dedicated to a panorama of the ancient masters and those of modern times.

In the central portion (readings 7-25), the titles and the traits of Jesus as true Master are explained. He, in fact, is the true Master by nature, by divine vocation, by destination, by acceptance, or by universal recognition. His teaching traits are: knowledge, exemplarity, charity, the teaching art, the capacity to attract and fascinate (which the author defines with the Greek term "terpetica") and still: the pedagogical mold, that is the art of modeling one’s self and one’s gifts to the spirit of the disciples.

With these personal traits of Jesus Master explained, here are the contents of his teaching: knowledge, morals, the channels of salvation. Then the means of teaching are listed: the living word, the messengers (apostles and disciples), the teaching Church, the Gospel, the sacramental presence in the Eucharist. And this second part is closed with a reading on the saving fruits of the divine magisterium.

The third part (readings 26-31) deals finally of our duties towards the Divine Master, which are the following: listening to preaching, the reading of the Gospel, the adherence to the teaching of Jesus, the imitation of his examples, the cooperation to his magisterium through oral teaching and, in a privileged instance, through the apostolate of the press.

The expository development of the individual lessons is made by taking recourse to biblical, patristic, theological and philosophical arguments drawn above all from St. Thomas Aquinas. To the exposition follows a page taken from the New Testament or from pontifical documents; a prayer and a short final invocation close every chapter.

After having gone through the book, one perceives that the more lively and original formulation of the doctrine that interests us are contained in the concluding prayers of the chapters. These, addressed to the Divine Master, concisely summarize the meditated theme and translate in clear formulas the contents, the method and the qualities of the magisterium of Jesus.(157) Especially notable: the final invocation of every chapter or reading is the following: "O Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life, have mercy on us."(158)

This tract of Canon Chiesa on Jesus Master constitutes, so to say, the first textbook on the new "devotion" which Fr. Alberione intended to propose to the Pauline Family and to the Church, as a special gift of God (cf. UPS II, 243-244). (summary)

2. The pedagogical synthesis of Fr. Alberione: the "School of Nazareth"

On 31 December 1929 Pope Pius XI published the encyclical Divini illius Magistri, which was considered the manifesto of Christian pedagogy in response to the laicist orientation of the state schools. In truth, in spite of the title, the document touched laterally and in passing our theme inasmuch as the references to the Divine Master are rare and in function to other themes.(159) Only two points are significant to us: one, with an integralist flavor but perfectly in line with the thought of Fr. Alberione, affirms that "just as there can be no true education if not oriented to the final end, so... after God has revealed to us His only Son, who is the only Way and Truth and Life, there can be no adequate and perfect education outside Christian education."(160) Another part underlines the effectiveness of Christian education, "inasmuch as Our Lord Jesus Christ, Divine Master, is both source and giver of such life and virtue and at once universal and accessible model to all [human] conditions, especially to the youth, with his example..."(161)

Fr. Alberione felt completely attuned to this pedagogical orientation of the Pope as Fr. Alberione anticipated it for more than ten years. The document, however, encouraged him in his intent to ever more decisively shape Pauline formation after the figure of Jesus according to the tridimensional vision of John and the doctrine of the Apostle Paul. A systematic catechesis framed after the Perfect Educator, insofar as Way, Truth and Life, turned into the book, Donec Formetur Christus in vobis. It was completed between 1928 and 1932.(162)

Nominally laid out according to the classic outline of tracts of asceticism (the Via di Perfezione kind: purgative way, illuminative way, unitive way), but in reality patterned after the Trinitarian doxology – "Glory to the Father, Glory to the Son, Glory to the Holy Spirit" – our tract immediately reveals the fecundity of the Alberione vision: just as the Father is the origin and goal of every perfection, and the Holy Spirit the energy for every growth, so we have to see in Christ the only "Way" to such perfection: the living way, personified and accessible thanks to the tridimensionality of its expression which meets the anthropological structure of every human being. As Truth, Way and Life, Christ forms the whole person of the disciple: he is the Master and integral formator. Perfection consists in the total identification with him: in "Christification."

The fundamental principle of this pedagogy, as of the whole of Pauline spirituality, is the mystery of the incarnation which must happen in every candidate during the period of formation: "This period must bring in us Jesus Christ: Truth, Way, Life," by means of daily communion with the Master: or also with the study of the Gospel, with the eucharistic celebration and with the Visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Thus we have the method of threefold division, either of meditation or of the mass and adoration, according to the outline Truth-Way-Life (cf. DF 98-100).

In the "preamble", dedicated with the Novitiate or of a course of spiritual exercises in mind, a model is pointed out, "the school of Nazareth," and the first norm of formation is proposed: "Formation must be modeled after the Divine Master: thirty years of private life." From here comes the need of a withdrawn environment, beneficial to the listening to the true Master: "Withdrawal from the world, the school opposed to that of the Divine Master" (cf. DF 13). The daily nourishment shall be communion with Jesus Christ, Way, Truth and Life (cf. DF 7).(163)

In the body of the book, Fr. Alberione developed as central the theme of "Christ Way"; but this in strict relation to the Truth and the Life.(164) Regarding Jesus Truth, here is his interpretation: "I am the Truth. That is: the truth on the nature of man and of his destiny; on the nature of God, of His attributes; on the nature of religion and of our duties. He did not come to explain natural sciences to us. But he confirmed the truths found by philosophy, corrected the ancient errors; he brought us numerous truths; he confirmed many. He said it himself: "If you do not want to believe In me, believe in my deeds..." The disciples believed him, the world... And the disciples called him "Master" for twenty-eight times and the Father also proclaimed him so" (cf. DF 129[48]-130). From these declarations come our moral duty as disciples: "We must follow this supreme Master: because he is the only one (Mt. 23:10), and the other teachers insofar as they are formed after him; because he has the most beautiful method of education; because he is God and thus we shall have the grace to do what he teaches and we shall be pleasing to the Father by way of the mind..." (cf. DF 131). Finally, the contents of the divine magisterium are explained in detail: the revealed truth, the evangelical life, the sacred sciences (cf. DF 129-143). An appendix, placed at the conclusion of the second part, summarizes the doctrine of St. Paul of whom it is affirmed that, "instructed by Jesus Christ and enlightened by the Holy Spirit in every step... was the most accomplished and faithful interpreter of the Divine Master" (cf. DF 168-170).

From this summary description of the Donec Formetur it comes out clear that, at the start of the Thirty’s the Christological title of "Master" was clear, integrated by the Johannine trinomial, it had already reached its full expression. It went on growing in conceptual clarity and in concreteness of application – it was not completely defined and exclusive as it would be in the following years, – nonetheless it already manifested itself as a general theological and methodological principle to the point of becoming a mark of the whole Pauline life: study-formation, spirituality and apostolate.(165) - (summary)

3. The "theological mentality": intellectual formation

On June 3, 1930, Canon Chiesa signed the presentation of the first volume of his major work, Trattato di Telogia dogmatica.(166) As it was affirmed in the preface, the author proposed to respond to the more urgent current needs, compiled into three instances: 1. To know the truth in itself; 2. To unify sciences in possible organic system; 3. To deepen and concretize theological knowledge. And in the treatment preference is given to the method all at once explanatory, holistic and practical.(167)

The first volume, corresponding to today’s treatise on Theological Methodology, explained starting from the title, the primary objective: the formation of a "theological mentality" capable of responding in an updated manner to the instances of the European scientific world: the integration between objectivity and subjectivity of knowledge; the integration of the various sciences in a coherent system; the systematic assumption of what would be defined as "interdisciplinary research"; integration between theory and practice, etc.

Speaking to his people, Fr. Alberione proposed the same objective with other expressions such as, "evangelical mentality," "mentality of faith," "study of the Divine Master," etc. On one hand, he demanded that, in courses of Philosophy and of Theology in the community, Canon Chiesa’s tract were rigorously followed; on the other hand, he insisted that everyone acquired the habit of thinking "according to Jesus-Truth" or "according to the Gospel, the New Testament, the Church..." Towards this end, the daily meditation according to the method Way-Truth-Life was very effective. Fr. Alberione emphasized that the method "shall incorporate us ever more in Jesus, our Master."(168)

The essential end on which the studies aimed is to form souls of apostles who take to themselves the very image of the "Master Way Truth and Life" as model and "method" of, at the same time, spiritual growth and apostolic action.(169)

An important stage was marked, in 1935, by the initiative of school textbooks edited and published by Paulines with the introduction of the Founder. In the prefaces of every text, Fr. Alberione took the opportunity of explaining his ideas on the various subjects, understood as various approaches to the "school of Jesus Master". Here are some examples: in the introduction of the book I Religiosi nella Chiesa, compiled by the novices of 1933-1934, he pointed out the model in Jesus, "establisher, example and sanctifier of religious" (cf. SP 15 February 1935; CISP 26). In manuals of civil history, he extended his wishes to the students: "May Jesus Master be always your light in the study of centuries and of peoples" (Ibid.; CISP 27). Introducing other textbooks – of Grammar, Languages and Literature – he traced the mediating role of priest, teacher and writer: "The priest is a [mediator] between God and man: he is a disciple of God, he is teacher of men "in his quae sunt ad Deum" [Heb 5:1]... May the Divine Master enlighten us and our [students] so we may learn ‘spiritu Pauli Apostoli’ his noble science" (Ibid.; CISP 28-29). As regards Geography, he emphasized the usefulness of knowing peoples and their countries in view of "preaching the Gospel to every creature, teaching what Jesus has taught [cf. Mt 28:19-20]. In this undertaking, he concluded, "May Jesus Master guide you" (SP 1 March 1935; CISP 30).

As it obviously appears, studies were always geared to the double function of taking unto one’s self the "mind" of the Divine Master and to faithfully preach him, as St. Paul did. In a synthetic expression of March 1935, Fr. Alberione summarized his thought: "Studies give to the priest the possibility of turning himself to way, truth and life to souls," by living the true apostolic fatherhood and motherhood, once more, like St. Paul (SP 15 March 1935; CISP 31).

The brother Disciples were not excluded from such a mission. In a circular of 1 April of the same year, the Founder emphasized that the Disciples of the Divine Master have received a special call to collaboration, a call that brings to mind the call of St. Joseph, cooperator of the heavenly Father and formator of Jesus. The Disciples, in fact, "participate in the office of teaching [what] Jesus taught and what the priests teach." Thus he exhorted in terms of vocation promotion, "let us bring many generous souls to the Divine Master" (Ibid., CISP 32-34).(170) - (summary)

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